Michigan safeties Vlad Emilien, Jared Van Slyke out with knee injuries
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
Vladimir Emilien’s bid to win a starting safety job just got more difficult.
Emilien, who played mostly on special teams last year as a true freshman, suffered a knee sprain last week and could miss the rest of spring practice. Fellow safety Jared Van Slyke also sprained his knee, leaving Michigan’s already-thin secondary even shorter on numbers.
“It’s a position of concern for us, certainly in experience,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Tuesday. “We’ve moved some guys around a little bit, but certainly for Vlad it’s going to be a big spring for him - him and Jared both. But they had great winters and they’re in good shape. If they don’t return this spring then certainly our evaluation for them to be able to help us will wait until August.”
With Emilien and Van Slyke out, converted receiver Cam Gordon has moved up in the safety rotation and is impressing teammates.
“He looks good,” cornerback Troy Woolfolk said. “I can tell he has natural ability at it. The coverage that he’s playing, he has the right keys on his eyes that he looks for, so I think he’s going to be pretty good.”
Rodriguez said he’s “glad” Gordon changed positions, but it’s too early in spring to set a pecking order at safety.
Michigan, which is transitioning to more of a 3-3-5 defense, returns two safeties with significant starting experience in Mike Williams and Jordan Kovacs, but both struggled at times last fall.
Linebacker Brandin Hawthorne also has been taking reps at safety because of injuries, Rodriguez said.
“That was a position going into spring that we were hoping to get more confidence in that we had enough guys on the team that we could do without relying on some (incoming) freshmen, and I’m not sure that’s going to be the case,” Rodriguez said. “I think the guys that we have there have done pretty well in the three practices, but that being said I think there’s probably going to be a handful of freshmen that come in and compete as well there. Makes you a little nervous, too, especially in the secondary.”
Michigan signed three safeties in its 2010 recruiting class, Marvin Robinson, Carvin Johnson and Ray Vinopal. Robinson is expected to contend for playing time as a true freshman, and cornerback Demar Dorsey can play safety as well.
Two other players were held out of practice Tuesday because of injuries. Receiver Je’Ron Stokes could miss a week with a sprained ankle, and defensive end Anthony LaLota is out with an elbow injury.
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.